17th February 2018
South African MPs swear in new President Cyril Ramaphosa
In his first major speech upon being elected President of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa has pledged to restore economic growth, fight corruption and tackle entrenched inequality. The election of Ramaphosa closes a dark chapter in the history of the African National Congress, the continent’s oldest liberation movement and for decades, under the internationally famous Freedom Charter, the guardian of the hopes of the South African people for an apartheid free, democratic future.
The resignation of former president, Jacob Zuma, under pressure from the ANC leadership ends a period when the party and the government have been mired in corrupt practices, self-aggrandisement and economic failure. The election of Ramaphosa, a veteran of the anti-apartheid struggle, former NUM General Secretary and key founder of trade union confederation COSATU, is seen by the ANC as a chance to get South Africa back on track after the Zuma years. In welcoming Ramaphosa’s election as President the ANC made clear its priorities stating,
“The African National Congress has full confidence in President Ramaphosa to build on the foundation laid and focus the country on accelerating our program of fundamental and radical socio-economic transformation. This will include giving effect to the ANC resolutions to accelerate land redistribution through amongst other mechanisms, the expropriation of land without compensation, and the fulfilment of our decision to provide fee-free education to children of the working class and the poor. The eradication of poverty, inequality and injustice in our country must shape his legacy as president of South Africa.
To give effect to this requires, amongst others, restoring the credibility of public institutions, state owned enterprises and law enforcement agencies. It will further demand strong, properly functioning and efficient government at national, provincial and local levels, working together with all social partners.”
Ramaphosa was quick to emphasise the need to deal with corruption, straighten out state-owned enterprises and deal with the issue of ‘state capture’, the term given to the undue influence exercised over government institutions and state-owned businesses by Zuma and his cronies.
The election of Ramaphosa is the latest stage in a struggle which has been waged within the ANC for some time, as progressive elements have sought to turn back the tide of corruption and root out those looting state enterprises and undermining respect for the ANC in the country. The turning point came at the ANC National Conference in December 2017 when opposition forces gained enough momentum to secure the election of Ramaphosa as ANC President. From that point onwards the demise of Zuma has been only a question of time.
The coalition of business associates around the Gupta family and others which had kept Zuma in place, for their own advantage, started to see the writing on the wall and elements began to gravitate towards supporting Ramaphosa, not for any reason of principle but to shore up their own position.
To that extent the election of Ramaphosa as state President is by no means the end of the struggle to turn the tide in South Africa but merely the beginning. As the South African Communist Party has made clear,
“…these forces must not be underrated. Disorganised they might now be, but they still have significant resources and strategic positions within the state. The momentum of disrupting their capacity must be sustained. The blows against the Gupta parasitic network must spread to all parasitic networks…”
That warning should be heeded but should by no means undermine the significance of the steps taken by the ANC and the people of South Africa in the past week. Lenin is reputed to have once said “there are decades where nothing happens, and weeks where decades happen.” The people of South Africa have just lived through such a week, a week which will give hope for the decades ahead.